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Looming water rate increase causes confusion in Nipomo 

Customers of the Nipomo Community Services District (CSD) will see an increase to their water bills starting on Dec. 1, but how much more customers will be charged is causing confusion among residents.

click to enlarge SPIKED RATES A chart shows the recently proposed water rate increases coming to Nipomo CSD customers. - IMAGE FROM NIPOMO CSD WATER RATE NOTICE
  • Image From Nipomo CSD Water Rate Notice
  • SPIKED RATES A chart shows the recently proposed water rate increases coming to Nipomo CSD customers.

The Nipomo CSD is in the middle of a five-year rate plan approved by the board in 2017 that adjusts water rates incrementally each year until Dec. 1, 2021. As a part of that plan, Nipomo CSD General Manager Mario Iglesias said, a 14.7 percent water rate increase is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1 of this year.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, much of Nipomo's community is struggling financially, and Iglesias said the Nipomo CSD board felt such a rate hike would be burdensome to its already hurting customers. Now, the Nipomo CSD is proposing a 4.5 percent water rate increase to take effect in December, a significantly lower amount than initially planned.

"In essence," Iglesias told New Times, "the board is trying to reduce the burden on the community."

But some Nipomo residents are protesting the increase, a process that, in official terms, requires CSD customers to send protest letters to staff. Normally the CSD can't implement a proposed rate hike if 51 percent of customers send in official protest letters.

As of Sept. 29, Iglesias had received eight letters protesting the rate increase coming on Dec. 1, but this time, he said customers are unwittingly protesting the proposed reduction to the scheduled rate increase. An increase of some kind is inevitable, he said, because it was already approved in 2017 and wasn't adequately protested at the time. What's up for debate now, he said, is the proposed 10 percent reduction to the coming increase.

To add to the confusion, the Nipomo CSD is also studying its future water rate plan two years earlier than it normally would. That, Iglesias said, is because the CSD is attempting to plan ahead for the revenue that would be lost without the full 14.7 percent rate increase initially scheduled. The district plans to use reserve funds to make up for most of that lost revenue, but Iglesias said other significant challenges lie ahead too, and additional rate increases are now also being proposed for each year until 2025.

Customers can protest those water rate increases, and will have to do so before the close of the CSD's public hearing on the matter, which starts at 9 a.m. on Oct. 28.

But Nipomo CSD customer Carla Haynie said the protest letter process is already confusing and challenging for people, and that's especially true with the complexities of this situation. For a protest letter to be counted, it has to be written by the owner of the parcel, it has to include a statement of protest against the increase, a customer address, and the property's assessor's parcel number (APN).

Haynie said renters can't protest at all, and most homeowners don't just have their home's APN lying around or the time to find it.

"It's not particularly hard," Haynie said, "but it is if you don't speak English and you don't have a computer and you're working 20 hours a day or whatever it is."

There's not a lot of time left for customers to protest, Haynie said, and all the confusion isn't making it easier to get the word out.

"So the deck is totally stacked against us," she said. Δ

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